Top tips for shopping in Bangkok
Thailand's capital is a top shopping destination for both spendthrifts and penny-pinchers. If you know where to shop in Bangkok, just about anything is available to buy – from handwoven silks and traditional Thai pottery under the awnings of an outdoor market, to gemstones and designer goods from a glitzy upscale mall. And with most stores, malls and markets open daily from morning until night, you can quite easily shop until you drop. What to buy, markets and malls, and bargaining tips – here is our guide to the best shopping in Bangkok.
Top shopping experiences in Bangkok
You can get amazing discounts in Thailand with a little shrewd bargaining. Keep the following in mind when shopping in Bangkok.
1. Don’t start bargaining unless you really want to buy.
2. Ask how much something is, then say it is too much and ask if there could be a discount.
3. The seller will ask how much you want to pay.
4. Don’t be afraid to offer what you might actually consider to be a ludicrously low price. Around one third of the original asking price is a good pointer towards what might actually be accepted. So, start lower than that and from there raise your offer in small increments.
5. Good tips include watching locals bargain to see what price they pay for similar items. And if you walk away, you may be called back and offered a better price.
6. If not, you have at least established some ground rules for trying at another stall. Many stalls stock the same or similar items.
Shipping items home
If you are buying large items of furniture or expensive antiques, or are dealing with department stores in Bangkok, the seller may be able to arrange shipping of the items for you. Otherwise, major post offices have packing facilities and are a cheaper, if less secure, option than going with an international courier such as FedEx.
Handmade jewelry is not-to-be-missed when shopping in Bangkok. Photo: thaikrit/Shutterstock
Where to shop in Bangkok
Malls in Bangkok
The main areas for shopping in Bangkok converge around Thanon Rama 1 and Thanon Ploenchit and are linked by a covered raised walkway, which means you can walk from mall to mall without ever touching terra firma.
Just a stone’s throw away from Siam Square, the upscale Siam Discovery Center is a retail complex encompassing chic stores and market stalls on multiple levels catering to a trendy youthful clientele. Diagonally opposite, Mah Boon Krong (MBK), is a multistory bargain-hunter’s heaven with a warren of outlets offering a vast range of goods. Nearby, the gargantuan Siam Paragon mall is peppered with upmarket and mainstream boutiques, designer stores and cafés, and also offers an aquarium, bowling alley and multiscreen cinema. Further down the road, the even bigger centralwOrld mall specializes in luxury fashion, beauty and skincare products from international brands.
And there are plenty of high-end shops scattered around Bangkok too, such as those at Gaysorn Plaza and Erawan Bangkok (both on Thanon Ploenchit near the Erawan Shrine). The latter has cool fashion and designer products from the likes of Stella McCartney and Alexander Wang.
Siam square shopping in Bangkok. Photo: Peter Stuckings/APA
Markets in Bangkok
Thailand’s most famous shopping experience is Chatuchak Weekend Market (Thanon Paholyothin, Bangkok; Sat–Sun), where some 250,000 shoppers swarm over nearly 10,000 stalls, making it the biggest flea market in the world. The market's labyrinthine alleys are packed with a cornucopia of antiques, books, opium pipes, fabrics and fashions.
Suan Lum Night Bazaar (Thanon Rama IV; daily from 5pm) is a well-organized, less frenetic alternative where street sellers offer a vast range of goods. Also popular after dark is Patpong Night Market (Thanon Silom, Bangkok; daily from 6pm). Located in the city’s notorious red-light district, the market’s hawkers sell jewelry, clothing, and souvenirs from open-air stalls. Chinatown (around Thanon Yaowarat) is the place to go for gold and traditional items used in dragon parades, while for sumptuous silks from the subcontinent, head to Pahurat (Thanon Chakkraphet), otherwise known as Little India.
Shopping at Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok. Photo: elwynn/Shutterstock
What to buy in Thailand
Teakwood carvings come in the form of homeware items such as chopping boards and salad bowls, as well as more decorative statues of mythical gods, angels, and elephants. Bronze statues of classical drama figures, like the recumbent deer from the Ramakien (the Thai version of the Indian classic fable the Ramayana), make elegant decorations. Natural fibers woven into place mats, baskets and handbags also make great potential purchases.
Gemstones and jewelry
Thailand mines its own rubies and sapphires around the east-coast city of Chantaburi, and also sells stones from Myanmar and Cambodia. Rubies range from pale to deep red, including the famous 'pigeon’s blood' red stones. Sapphires come in blue, green and yellow, as well as in the form most associated with Thailand – the star sapphire. Thai jewelers can fashion gold, white gold, silver and platinum into delicate jewelry designs, both traditional and modern.
Be careful when searching for gems and jewelry in Thailand, especially when shopping in Bangkok. One of the most infamous scams in the city involves telling travellers that a famous landmark, such as the Grand Palace that they may be intending to visit, is closed and suggesting an alternative sight. A subsequent detour often leads to a bogus gem deal. To be on the safe side, if you are shopping for gems, buy only from reputable shops endorsed by the Thai Gem and Jewelry Traders Association or the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
Gem stones in Bangkok. Photo: Tawin Mukdharakosa/Shutterstock
Thai craftspeople excel at lacquerware, which is the art of overlaying wooden or bamboo items with glossy black lacquer, then adding artistic images painted in gold leaf. Thai artisans are also supremely skilled at setting oyster shells in black lacquer backgrounds to create scenes of enchanting beauty.
Thais have been crafting pottery with great finesse for thousands of years. While original antiques are rarities, most ceramics are still thrown along the same shapes and designs of their age-old counterparts. Among the best known are Sangkhalok ceramic plates from ancient Sukhothai, most notably with distinctive twin-fish design.
Celadon is a beautiful stoneware with a light jade-green or dark-brown glaze, and is used to fashion dinnerware, lamps and statuary.
Benjarong originated in China and was later developed by Thai artists. Its name describes its look: benja is Sanskrit for 'five,' and rong means 'color.' The five colors of Benjarong – red, blue, yellow, green and white – appear on delicate porcelain bowls, receptacles and decorative items.
Popular blue-and-white porcelain, which also originated in China, has been produced extensively in Thailand for centuries.
Traditional Benjarong ceramics in Thailand. Photo: Maneerat Shotiyanpitak/Shutterstock
Thai and Burmese antiques are among the finest in Asia, but the real thing is rare nowadays. For the tenacious and well-informed, though, treasures can still be unearthed when shopping in Bangkok. The center of the city’s antique trade is River City, where an array of shops offer genuine antiques and lookalike objets d’art.
Note that the authorities maintain strict control over the export of religious antiques. Dealers are usually able to clear buyers’ purchases by obtaining export permits and shipping them abroad.
Ready to take a shopping trip in Bangkok?
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Updated 18 December, 2019